Oh, yeah? Fact-checking the presidential candidates

Did you hear the one about Romney? Fact-checking journalists found some of the assertions in Saturday night's Republican debate to be at least a little wobbly and in some cases outright false.

Jeff Haynes/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry makes a point as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looks on during the Republican Party presidential candidates debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday night.

“Fact-checking” the assertions of debaters in the presidential race has become a small industry. Newspapers and wire services do it. So do special websites dedicated to holding candidates accountable for their claims – especially the ones they make about their rivals.

Among others, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Boston Globe, and took a look at Saturday night’s Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa, and found some of the assertions to be at least a little wobbly and in some cases outright false.

Some examples:

In response to a charge by Michele Bachmann about controlling the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, Newt Gingrich said, “I oppose cap and trade, I testified against it, the same day that Al Gore testified for it. I helped defeat it in the Senate.”


What Gingrich said four years ago, is this: “I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.”

Mitt Romney said President Obama “decided he was going to try and negotiate for Israel by saying, let’s go back to the '67 borders.”


What Obama actually said was, “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states…. It means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That's what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation.”

On health care, Rick Perry turned to Romney and said, “I read your first book, and it said in there that your mandate in Massachusetts, which should be the model for the country – and I know it came out of the reprint of the book, but, you know, I'm just saying, you were for individual mandates, my friend.”

Romney gets this all the time, and actually it’s less than a doozie. He did alter some things in a later edition of his book but a fuller reading shows he meant the Massachusetts plan could be a model for other states, not the federal government.

In any case, Romney got (for him) so steamed that he immediately challenged Perry to a $10,000 bet over who was right – which immediately tagged him as being what the occupy wallstreeters call the super wealthy one percent. (Romney’s net worth is something greater than $200 million, a fact you’ll never learn from him.)

Romney himself gave less than a totally accurate reading on another health care issue when he said, “Let’s not forget, only one president has ever cut Medicare for seniors in this country and it’s Barack Obama.”


In fact, as the Washington Post points out, presidents and lawmakers have frequently tried to rein in the soaring cost of Medicare – including, one could argue, Romney himself. He supports the House Republican plan for Medicare which would make major changes in order to reduce its costs.

Gingrich has taken flak for suggesting that kids in schools should be spending some of their time doing janitorial work. Saturday night he said, “An entry-level janitor gets paid twice as much as an entry-level teacher.”

Whether or not you agree with him that “you could give lots of poor kids a work experience in the cafeteria and the school library and – and front office, and a lot of different things,” it turns out he’s mostly right about that, according to recent reports by the New York Post and NBC News.

Not everybody is thrilled with all this fact-checking. Some say there is bias – including political bias – in the way it’s conducted.

“They call themselves ‘fact checkers,’ and with the name comes a veneer of objectivity doubling as a license to go after any remark by a public figure they find disagreeable for any reason,” writes Mark Hemingway, online editor of the conservative The Weekly Standard in a piece headlined "The liberal media’s latest attempt to control the discourse." “The fact checker is less often a referee than a fan with a rooting interest in the outcome.”

That’s a charge the Tampa Bay Times’ no doubt would rate highest on its Truth-O-Meter: “Pants on Fire.”

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